The 1807-1808 Season

By John Brokaw and Frank McHugh

A news item dated 16 November 1807, points out the essential differences between the first and second Sans Pareil seasons: "the small theatre ... was opened on Saturday, 14 November. The company consists of juvenile performers, who appear to great advantage in some little pieces, the music and dancing of which deserves commendation" (clipping in James Winston's Adelphi Scrapbook). The simplicity of the 1806-7 season, with its recitations and magic lantern shows, gives way to more elaborate pieces and to a numerous company, as many as forty-five members appearing on stage. Contrary to what the news item suggests, there were five or six mature performers in the company, but the rest were indeed the children or pupils of Gabriel Giroux, the new associate manager, choregrapher and ballet master. Because of this, the Sans Pareil did not attempt pantomimes or melodramas, though now licensed to do so. The principal pieces were ballets of action and ballet or burletta spectacles. (One recitation from the preceding season, Rural Visitors, was given by Jane M. Scott at her benefit, 7 March, 1808.)

Gabriel Giroux had been dancing in London since 1786. He and his children appeared regularly at the Royal Circus for several seasons before coming to the Sans Pareil. Five Giroux daughters performed at the Sans Pareil between 1807 and 1813, but only two, Caroline and Louisa are named in the surviving bills for 1807-8. A February review praises the work of "Little Giroux." This is probably Malcolm, who would for many years perform and teach in London. The principal dancer was Caroline Giroux. Born in 1799, she had danced at the Circus when she was three. In later years, as Mrs. Searle, she had a substantial independent career (Highfill, et al., Biographical Dictionary, VI, 227-8). Gabriel Giroux helped with theatre management and stage production. He also worked closely with Miss Scott, then writing her first plays and doing her first ensemble acting. As one example of the collaboration between Giroux and Miss Scott, Giroux wrote the first piece of the season, the ballet The Fisherman's Daughter, and Miss Scott wrote the second piece, a musical entertainment Successful Cruize, which was described as "a continuation of The Fisherman's Daughter." Jane Scott wrote four pieces in all, as did Giroux. She showed her versatility and adaptability, always hallmarks of her work, in writing three pieces for the child performers. The Magistrate, written for the adult actors, was successful enough to be revived in three later seasons.

Gabriel Giroux's Valdevina the Cruel; or, The Girl of the Desert was a "new grand serious spectacle" in three acts with twenty-four roles, choruses and supernumeraries. Several promising young people performed in this dance spectacle, including Caroline Giroux, Master Leclerq and Master Richard Flexmore. Flexmore became a skilled eccentric dancer and also fathered Richard Flexmore (1824-1860), a more famous dancer and pantomimist. A 15 February review praised Giroux's Valdevina highly: "The scenery, dresses and properties are magnificent; the music, by Sanderson, is melodious and scientific; the performance of Little Giroux is beyond description, particularly in the second and last scene, where a picture is formed which would do credit to the first painters; in fact, the tout ensemble of this beautiful piece surpasses all that has been produced at any theatre" (Adelphi Scrapbook).

In addition to engaging Gabriel Giroux, the Scotts acquired their first scenic designer, Morris. And they engaged an experienced band leader and composer, James Sanderson, who had previously worked with both J. C. Cross and the younger Charles Dibdin. Sanderson contributed much to this theatre in its early years.

The Sans Pareil also began to establish itself as a variety house. This is apparent on the first evening, when the incidental entertainments included songs, dances, "imitations of celebrated performers" and fireworks. Among the entertainers were Mrs. Macartney, who as Miss Minton had begun at Sadler's Wells in 1800, and Andrew Campbell, an amateur at this time, whose impersonations would win him popularity in his several years at the theatre.

The season ended on April 9, after some 112 performances. From July to early September, 1808, the house was leased by the Covent Garden corps de ballet. On September 19, the elder Charles Dibdin gave his one-man show, Rent Day; or, The Yeoman's Friend.

© Copyright 1988 by Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross

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